From Marvel to Manga, through the video game industry and vlogging the business of content creation has exploded and with it, millennial artists are making a name for themselves online. With a legacy of inspiration before them, and more potential than ever laying ahead, it’s unsurprising that we live in a time of groundbreaking talent. It’s quite surprising, then, that many of the industries they contribute to still only cater to a tiny portion of our population. 2017 was a step forward for women in media, but still, only a small percentage of women. In 2018, I am proud and hopeful to see women from every corner, of every identity and orientation, stepping forward and laying the groundworks for this to be their year. While there is still a long road ahead, I want to extend my words to the LGBT women who are leading the charge in changing the landscape of content creation.
I will start by saying that, in regards to comic books, I am not equipped with the longstanding knowledge of a fan, nor have I made the effort to clue myself in before now. Without proper research, it wouldn’t be fair for me to cast judgement. What I do know is that the industry has faced criticism for failing to represent their diversified fanbase, or potential fan base, especially for the 1 in 4 readers who happen to be women. Most recently Marvel came under fire for cancelling a collection of comics that put women and members of the LGBT community in the spotlight, such as Gwenpool, America Chavez, Hawkeye, and Iceman. Marvel exec Joe Quesada insisted on Twitter that this was not a pattern of exclusion, merely a response to sales. However, many are calling BS to this, pointing out that there were a number of other titles with worse projections that didn’t get the can. This wouldn’t be the first time, and I doubt it’ll be the last. According to lead Thor writer Jason Aaron, the industry had backed itself into a “demographic corner” in its early days. Not only does this make the long-term success of any LGBT heroine unlikely, their real-life counterparts will naturally find it harder to be recognised in the industry. Such a narrow audience can only represent a small portion of the real demand, and so feedback as to what sells will be skewed, creating a sense of unease toward writers of a different target audience. As mentioned, it’s not just the comic-book industry, it would be nice to have so little to complain about. Video games and multimedia platforms are equally culpable. With such a rich and varied history of storytelling and entertainment, video games have a shockingly small sum of female LGBT characters and even fewer heroines. By censoring LGBT content, Youtube has made their stance toward the community very clear. Since age immemorial, women, predominantly LGBT women, have faced struggles in almost every facet of life, especially those that dare to work, especially those that dare to work creatively. And yet daring is what they do best, and thanks to the millions that do the industry is beginning to recognise its bias.
Albinwonderland, AKA Ange, is the Canadian sweetheart of Youtube and Tumblr. She dabbles in all kindsa content creation from vlogging to fine art and has been illustrating her life online for over a decade. There are many things Ange brings to the table, but for me, the most important would be her transparency. From the little things that make her happy to the divulgence of deeply personal struggles, and her refreshing attitude toward menstruation talk. Despite potential backlash, she remains firm in sharing her marriage with the world. In doing so she sets the standard of normalising LGBT relationships. She has made it known previously that, in response to various questions, her orientation comes without a label, and that labels are not something she’s ever felt comfortable with. This denies us the ability to scrutinise, pigeonhole and judge her marriage, instead, allowing us to see it as something uniquely simple - two people in love. But its simplicity is not so unique, Ange represents a wide demographic of individuals who prefer not to ascribe to labels, and are still part of the LGBT community because the rest of the world chooses to label them. However, her content extends far past the business of her relationship, she proves herself to be a talented and avid artist, a hair and make-up guru and a fan of lolita fashion. Her contribution to 2017’s Inktober featured adorably morbid illustrations that not only highlighted her edges but let us into the deeper part of Ange’s expression. Unfortunately, despite her hard work over the years, Ange was recently handed the same reminder many LGBT women face - that according to the status quo her expression of love is explicit, disconcerting and discomforting. When uploading a slideshow of her wedding photos she found that Youtube had flagged the content as inappropriate. Why? Because of two women shared a milkshake together, one in a white dress, one wearing a suit. Ange spoke out about this on Twitter, and even though this problem was resolved, the overall message was not, as she went on to point out this was a clear indication of her platform’s morality, and this was a sobering act. The happiest day of her life was defined as ‘inappropriate’, YouTube had decided her marriage would make people uncomfortable, this is not something that can be unlearned. Let’s not forget that this is her job, a source of income, and by flagging the content YouTube blocked Ange from receiving ad revenue for that post. Despite this morally iffy cloud, Ange’s spirits have not been dampened, and she has continued making content for the world to gorge itself on. Her peppy, good-natured spirit is the hug we all need sometimes, but more importantly, Ange stands as an example of pure hope, uncut optimism. A quality so very crucial and miraculous to weathering darker days.
Sam Maggs is the name on the tip of my tongue. I was directed to her work through the Mcelroy three - Griffin, Justin, and Travis, who had referenced Sam on Twitter. But despite me being a “Johnny-come-lately” to the Maggs fandom, I quickly realised that she alone is to be credited for her renown. Sam is a content creator and writer, with a long list of accolades to her name, recently achieving her dream by landing a job at Bioware. Being a bi, gay, trans or queer woman is a concept so abstract to the mainstream we see it routinely objectified in media. In fact, gender as a whole is continuously misunderstood. For many, this has been a source of dejection, hopelessness or at least frustration. Yet in the end, we must find ourselves tenacious. It’s this same tenacity that I praise Maggs for. Having previously worked as an editor for The Mary Sue, and with her upcoming project of Wonder Women, Sam has been no stranger to intersectional feminism. Her experience in the industry, when combined with her exposure to Geek Culture’s evident homophobia and sexism, paints a picture of a woman who refuses to quit. When sharing her journey, Maggs beamed at the shifting tides that welcomed more and more women to its shores but remembered that it once struggled enormously with gatekeeping habits. The women who raised us will have their own memories of how harsh the world was when they were growing up, and those before them will have even more. With every generation, we see an enclave of women who are fighting and persevering to make our planet more of a home. With every generation, the planet gets a little warmer for women. Sam is one of the women making these changes and tearing down these walls. Ultimately, she represents persistence and prevalence in a way that I find deeply comforting, and I believe will give young LGBT women something more amazing to aspire to. It is a success story I wish we could see more often, and it is with this quality that we will, hopefully, see many an influential creator put forward their own experiences and representations into the worlds they help build.
Kate Leth is another big inspiration for me, and I’m sure many others. Like Maggs, Kate has an impressive list of accomplishments to her name - having worked with Marvel, Adventure Time, Fraggle Rock and Dark Horse to name a few. On Twitter, Leth has scarcely shied away from being vocal about the industry’s treatment of LGBT women, but like Sam, like Ange, like millions of LGBT women who work against the grain, she knows how to let her speak louder than the voices who say gay women have no place. Kate balances her right to represent and speak for her community with her professionalism and artistry. She also has that miraculous feminist quality through which she lifts other women up alongside her, evidenced through her blog ‘Beware the Valkyries’ - a fantastic expose on women who write, draw or sell comic-books around the world. Our societies have long played woman against woman, encouraging us to compete with one another for a place at the table. Fortunately, through the awareness and hard work of many intersectional feminists, fewer are abiding by competition. Kate Leth is one of these individuals that encourage women everywhere to be communal instead of competitive. Through her work, we see a fine example of the changing landscape for content creation, and our nation’s attitude toward LGBT women in the workplace. Her vocal attitude and honesty are inspirational, and something that I am paying close attention to, hoping it’ll rub off on me. With this, Leth has the impeccable quality of remembering what’s important and not allowing distraction or clouded judgement to steer her from her goals. She represents the dignity, strength and much-needed truth that resounds from the community.
Another creative brought to my attention through the magic of Twitter is Stef Sanjati. A visually stunning YouTube-er, and certified badass. Browsing through her video archive I notice a pattern that refreshes me and makes me say “Yes! Thank-you! Finally!”; She exposes her life and loves in a way that abolishes ideas of women being mysterious and inscrutable objects, and in a way that forces us to recognise the place that trans people have in our world. Additionally, what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes. From her unique sense of whimsy, through her brutal truths and into unashamed unboxing of adult toys sent to her, Stef encourages us to view women in the best way - as human beings, not tied to one-dimensional expectations of gender. One other key thing I noticed about her content is how effortless and comfortable she seems. She stands as an encouragement for trans women especially to reach that point of comfortability, and not in her “passing ability”, not in her feminine stature, but in her words. An atmosphere has been created that could prove to be influential in the way we perceive trans identities, enabling us to see them for what they are - normal - and in the way young LGBT women view their prospects of success. But there’s more, so much more, Stef’s YouTube channel is one of the very few that I’ve found myself so magnetically drawn to. There’s not one video that loses my attention, with an excellent combination of human flaws and witty repartee, her grounded personality reaches through the screen to make you a cup of tea and ask about your day. And then gush over her weird love of bread. Maybe it’s simply that she feeds my interests, maybe she’s just generally captivating, whatever it is, I want more of it. I feel that Stef’s devil-may-care humour and guttural honesty is the undiluted truth of what it means to be a woman, what it means to be trans, and what it means to be human. Sometimes, that’s a little too much to swallow, but it may be the kick the world needs to recognise the fleshed out reality and power of women.
While the business of content creation still struggles to be wholly inclusive, it is far less of a gated community than what it once was. I believe this is down to the tireless efforts of those once excluded - gay, trans, bi and queer women - who have proved time and again that this is but a component of who they are, and is an irrelevant factor in their ability to work. Sam Maggs was kind enough to share some words on her experience in the business:
“I would say that there's never been a better time to be a marginalized content creator because the barrier to entry is so low now - you don't have to wait to be validated by the Big Two if you want to make comics, and you don't have to worry about gatekeeping guys if you want to make a video game.”
But in addition to this, or perhaps because of this, we have seen greater variation in fictional representation. As generations go by, more and more women are given role models to aspire to. All the way from Medea to Carrie Fisher, and now girls everywhere will open up a comic book, browse Youtube or play a video game with the voice of Maggs, Albinwonderland, Leth, and Sanjati speaking to them, inspiring them to succeed as who they are. To quote Sam Maggs: “your voice is unique and the world needs it. There's an audience out there waiting for you!”